Right on tempo
Whiplash is timeless. The decorum is contemporary, mobile phones are frequently in use, and street side advertisements are locked to the time of the shoot. But it’s timeless. Whiplash needs no era. It extends to almost any of them in the legacy of jazz.
The film carries a cold, disconnected mean streak. It’s unwelcoming and hostile. Colors are frigid. New York is not a character; rather, it acts as another level of judgment. The idealism of the city, the expectation of perfectionism, is a looming story catalyst – one of many against passionate drummer Andrew (Miles Teller).
This is a movie about sophistication, pettiness. Scenes are argumentative and hostile. But, it is also about excellence, impossibly so.
J.K. Simmons plays a seething music instructor, Fletcher. Fletcher throws things, slaps students, demands attention, and gives nothing in return. There is no support system for perfection we learn.
Simmons appears herculean – he looks down, the camera looks up, but he is not a large man physically. The camera makes him so. It is one of many tricks and hooks Whiplash uses leading up to a ferocious finishing solo piece where Fletcher and Andrew engage in a war on stage, unrehearsed. Edits fly, the lens pans back-and-forth. The mental chaos is staggering and the performances flawless.
Like almost any great film, Whiplash is a character piece. Andrew is in every scene – all of them. And, Teller is superb. Andrew was once innocent, practicing alone in a room when Fletcher politely invites him into an elite class. The methods involved are cruel, and often, so are the results.
Andrew experiences a breakdown of body and mind. He rejects family, friends, and relationships. The drums are what matters. Yet, he is who he claims to be – “the best in the world.” Fletcher’s methods, through Simmons’ stirring execution, do work on the elite few. The rest quit. They’re forgotten. Andrew won’t be and he is determined to make it so.
Whiplash builds atmosphere until it is no longer needed. Andrew initially escapes to New York where the hostile nature of the city is revealed. It towers over him as much as Fletcher eventually will. But then it’s gone, the city a background element, unseen and unneeded. Slowly, Whiplash economically builds around a drum set with Andrew behind it, the film growing ever smaller and more intimate. It closes on a spotlight pouring onto Andrew and only Andrew. In the moment, he has become the only one that matters. The tenacious fight to reach such a pinnacle is Whiplash.
Color timing moves Whiplash into two palettes: One is teal, the other is orange. It’s not particularly adventurous. However, there is a purpose. Andrew’s few moments of “escape” bring up the color into something a more tangible. The warmth is still there, but primaries receive a little attention.
Up close – and much of Whiplash is done in close – the disc will reveal extensive fine detail. Fidelity is everywhere, even where it may not be wanted such as Andrew’s bloody hands. Marks on the drums, growing with time, become visible. Each ding on the cymbals is presented perfectly. Facial definition is outstanding.
Of prime importance are shadows. While the opening shots lean toward a weaker level of contrast, Whiplash picks up quickly. Black levels strengthen and hold. Simmons often steps out of shadows which give him an imposing figure. Lighting schemes are superb too.
Whiplash is visually nuanced and rich. Although rapidly shot on a short schedule, each set-up feels plotted and well considered. It helps to make a clean, precise piece with plenty of energy even if the digital color appears otherwise.
Almost without saying it, audio is of prime focus for this mix. The drum’s low-end is exquisite, the highs more so. It should be of little surprise how clear this all is after being in the realm of HD audio for so long. Then something like Whiplash happens to remind us all how good we have it.
It’s a pounding mix, but certainly a complex one. Drums are important to consider, each one planted clearly in the speakers as needed, the drums rising and falling as required. Sound design tells a story as much as dialog.
Outside of the classroom or off stage, the music carries. Into Andrew’s apartment, music blares from a nearby party. Inside of a pizza parlor, critical ambient music is heard filling the surrounds. No moment is missed.
Director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons pair for a commentary, the opening to a satisfying slate of extras. Timekeepers interviews drummers from all manner of musical styles, detailing their histories and passion. It runs 42-minutes, so this is far from a fluff piece. It’s close to being its own feature documentary with a touch more focus (and length).
The original short which spawned Whiplash is included, running 18-minutes. A commentary is offered her as well, along with a lone deleted scene. An interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, with Chazelle, Simmons, and Teller, is offered for the finale. It nears eight minutes.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.